It often starts out innocently enough – sharing a joke in the kitchen while the water is on the boil, or a lighthearted, witty reply to an email, but when does workplace banter go from being innocent fun to something harmful, like otherism?
Take a moment to think about the people with whom you share a workspace, or even closer to home, your family and friends. How many of them share religious beliefs that differ from yours, come from a different cultural background, or have a different sexual orientation? Now, take the train of thought one station further; how often have you joked with a like-minded colleague about a colleague that differs from you? Or worse, made a joke with your different colleague at their expense? Sure, this has a bit to do with political correctness, but even more so it has to do with awareness about otherism.
Otherism, if not nipped in the bud, can have catastrophic outcomes.
It exists as the concept that people that differ from your tidily defined ‘box’ are not ‘normal’ and therefore it is acceptable to ridicule or persecute them for their differences. It often happens unconsciously, because of what we are taught or simply because of misinformation through various means.
One only has to look at countries like Rwanda where the Hutu and Tutsi tribes attempted to wipe each other out because of cultural differences. Other examples include thinking that a certain colleague may have ties to militia groups because of their appearance, or religion. Some people may exclude people who are involved in interracial relationships because the former think they are superior on some level. While there is more awareness about the LGBTQI+ movement, there are still countries that will incarcerate individuals in these groups if they are found to be in relationships. In the 1980’s it was against the law to be gay in the UK! More recently, African students that were studying in Ukraine before the war broke out are having difficulty crossing borders because they’re not white.
To avoid being an otherist requires a conscious decision not to judge, which we will concede isn’t always easy, but ask yourself: “How would I feel if someone discriminated against me based on the choices I have made for me or because of factors beyond my control, such as age, race or because of a disability.”
If you, or someone you know is exhibiting otherist behaviour, or on the receiving end of it, counselling may be the answer. The dedicated, professional team at Bristol Counselling and Psychotherapy are happy to assist, either in person or through online sessions.Bristol Counselling and Psychotherapy offers workplace counselling and group peer support sessions held at organisations to help work through issues raised in this article. Get in touch today for a quote.